Leaving the family farm near Forest, Ont., in 1938, Mary Rosalind Morris enrolled in horticultural studies at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) with plans to become a tree fruit breeder. After completing her BSA in 1942, she continued grad studies in plant breeding at Cornell University. There, she got her first look at chromosomes under the microscope, an experience that changed her career plans.
Morris completed her PhD in genetics studies in 1946, becoming one of the first two women to receive a doctorate from Cornell’s plant breeding department. She accepted a faculty position at the University of NebraskaLincoln (UNL), becoming the first woman faculty member hired by the agronomy department, where she spent a 43-year-long career.
AS A CYTOGENETICIST WITH UNL’S WHEAT TEAM, MORRIS DEVELOPED AND TESTED CHROMOSOME LINES IN BREAD WHEAT VARIETIES.
Early in her studies, she looked at the effects of radiation on crops including corn genes. Keen to improve her technical skills, she completed a fellowship at the California Institute of Technology in 1949-50. She also spent several months in 1956-57 on a Guggenheim scholarship in Sweden and England.
As a cytogeneticist with UNL’s wheat team, Morris developed and tested chromosome lines in bread wheat varieties. “This involved meticulous microscope observations by Rosalind and her assistants,” read her obituary. “Many of these lines were shared with wheat scientist in different countries.
“Rosalind was a trailblazer for women in agronomy when it was unusual to see women in such roles.”
Morris died March 26, 2022, just over a month before her 102nd birthday.
Born May 8, 1920, in Wales, she moved to Canada with her family in 1925. The move came after her father, a teacher, had contracted flu following the First World War; a doctor had advised him to find an outdoor occupation.
By 1930, the family was living on a fruit farm in Lambton County.
In 1997, she established the W. Penri Morris Memorial Scholarship at U of G, named for her brother, who was killed during the Second World War.
A longtime member of the Nebraska Academy of Scientists, Rosalind Morris belonged to the local branch of the American Association of University Women and to the St. David’s Society of Nebraska.
Her cytogenetics work continues to provide a resource for researchers studying functional genomics.